Forrest Gregg is asked about the first Super Bowl, played 44 years ago in Southern California sunshine.
But on this bitterly frigid day in Colorado Springs, Gregg travels back even deeper into the past to an autumn day in 1965 when he witnessed the slightly sinister genius of Vince Lombardi.
Gregg and the Packers won the first two Super Bowls by destroying the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. Gregg was there for the loud, startling moment in 1965 when Lombardi built the path to those victories.
Gregg, who has lived in the Springs for a decade, is a Super Bowl expert. He won three as an offensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys and coached the Cincinnati Bengals to the brink of victory in 1982. He’s a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He played for Lombardi from 1959 to 1967 when the Packers rampaged to five NFL titles in nine seasons. This run established Lombardi as a mythic figure.
But Gregg experienced the reality of Lombardi. He saw the man’s brilliant, tireless preparation. He endured his relentless, highly effective mind games.
The Packers played in the NFL title game in 1960, 1961 and 1962, winning the last two. Lombardi had traveled, in four seasons, from no-name assistant to Emperor of the NFL.
And, while enjoying the summit, the man who never relaxed might have relaxed, just a little. In 1963 and 1964, the Packers failed to make the playoffs.
This infuriated Lombardi. It also inspired him. When the Packers gathered to prepare for the 1965 season, they encountered an enraged coach. Lombardi was weary of watching playoff games.
The Packers opened the 1965 season by muscling to five straight victories before facing the Dallas Cowboys. In a supremely ugly game, the Packers defeated Dallas, 13-3, despite slogging to only 63 yards of total offense.
This left the Packers with a 6-0 record, which should have brought satisfaction to Lombardi. It didn’t. He did not yet see a champion.
On Oct. 26, 1965, the Tuesday after the win over the Cowboys, Lombardi confronted the Packers. His players were weary after a punishing practice, but Lombardi was hyper, roaming the big room with arms behind his back. He found virtually nothing that pleased him against Dallas. He berated players to their faces.
And then he said this:
“Winning, it doesn’t mean anything to any of you,” Lombardi bellowed. “I’m the only one in this room who wants to win.”
Lombardi stopped to savor a dramatic pause before ending his brilliant tirade.
“I ... am ... the ... only ... one!”
Gregg, exhausted, was sitting in front of his locker. He heard Lombardi’s accusations, which sliced him someplace deep and filled him with rage.
He knew he could not remain silent, but he also knew he was preparing to challenge the toughest coach on earth.
“I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. Will he kill me?” Gregg said to himself as he contemplated standing up. He stood up, anyway.
“By God, coach, I want to win,” Gregg said, his voice rising with each word. “It tears my guts out to lose.”
The room went silent as Lombardi glared at Gregg, the men’s eyes locking for a long, tense moment.
Then Lombardi began shouting.
“Who else? Who else?”
One by one, each of the Packers stood and announced he, too, hated to lose and loved to win and would give anything – anything! – for victory.
Gregg watched Lombardi’s entire ride in Green Bay, one of the greatest rides in the history of team sports. This private moment in the Packers locker room remains, in Gregg’s mind, Lombardi’s finest hour.
In January, 1967, the Packers traveled to Santa Barbara, Calif., to prepare for the first Super Bowl. They were prohibitive favorites, but Lombardi pushed them as if they were severe underdogs. He was, even by Lombardi standards, merciless.
“We,” he told his Packers over and over, “are here to win.”
And the Packers did win. They clobbered the Chiefs for the second of three straight NFL titles.
Gregg proudly wears one of his three Super Bowl rings. He keeps the other two in a safety deposit box.
Sometimes, he looks at his ring, remembers all the hard labor it required and travels back to Oct. 26, 1965.
That was the day Lombardi most fully revealed himself as a genius.